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Authors: Tanuja Desai Hidier

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BOOK: Born Confused
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—So are you gonna
get
them? whined Taffy. She had a spot of lipstick smack in the middle of her front tooth. I decided not to tell her.

My mother was patiently folding and hanging things that had fallen from my fists to the floor. I burst into tears.—What do
you
think? I said.

—Go, my mother told her.—Go fold something. We need our privacy. Haven’t you done enough damage already?

Taffy’s mouth dropped open like a fish in a tank with a leak. Once she’d huffily retreated my mother turned to me.

—Dimple, she said.—You are a beautiful girl. You have hips. They’re not going anywhere. This is the Indian body. We are not like these straight curveless Americans.

—Mom, I
am
American.

—Dimple, no matter how much you try you cannot change your bones. Your body is your temple; your body is your home. It tells you where you are from.

—My body’s the whole country’s home! I sniffed.—Look at it! All these hips, boobs, butts. Why can’t I just be normal?

—Normal? Dimple Rohitbhai Lala, when you insult yourself, you insult me. Now, you don’t want to be insulting your mother, do you?

—Of course not. But Ma, on you all that stuff looks great. You’re a mom. You’re
supposed
to have curves. But on me it just doesn’t work. Why couldn’t I have taken after Dad?

—Then you’d have a bald spot on top of all these other so-called problems.

—He has a bald spot? I said, intrigued.—I didn’t know.

—Even he does not know yet, said my mother in a hushed voice, leaning in.—I see it when he is sleeping; it is growing, spreading, soon it will take over.

She straightened up and resumed her normal voice.

—Dimple, beta. Stop trying to be something you are not.

Then, as if she’d heard her own words, she curved both hands on my shoulders and kissed my forehead.

—Come on, she sighed.—Let’s go to the camera store.

After checking out the photographic goods with my parents, they left me by the fountain where the little kids threw pennies and
the old couples sat together in potted-plant silence gripping cups of tea from the coffee company. This was also part of the birthday ritual: making myself scarce and all of us pretending I had no idea what the gift was. And truth was, this year I didn’t. I really couldn’t imagine my parents actually purchasing any of the wish items I’d just indicated, nearly swooning in my relief to be in a store that was all about looking anywhere but me. Especially since my father had just lectured me on why did I insist on taking black-and-white pictures when the world was not black and white, indicating as his idea of the real thing the superglossy photos of puppies and brides and babies that came with the frames for sale on the display rack. I looked down to the fountain bottom, to all the pennies rippling there. So many wishes. I didn’t have a cent on me and wasn’t sure it counted if I wished on someone else’s but it still felt like a powerful place to be, a mall fountain blinking with so many underwater copper eyes, with so much wanting.

I pictured my dad flipping a coin at the camera counter, against his better judgment.

My parents never seemed to mind my taking pictures until recently. I mean, at birthdays and get-togethers or Christmas (which we all loved, closet Christians that we were) they’d always pose and preen and say jalfreezi for the Instamatic, counting out the
ek, do, teen
alongside my
one, two, three.
Our home was different than lots of homes in this sense: If you looked through recent family albums it was I, not my father, who was most often missing from the pictures, as I was most often the one snapping away.

To be honest I preferred it that way. The less evidence of my ungraceful plummet into adolescence, the better for posterity, if I ever had one. And my parents were not only closet Christians, they were closet Hollywood stars, too (it was in the genes, India being the number one producer of movies in the world, as my father had told me
353 times): As soon as my zoom was on my father would slap on the smile he saved especially for it. It stretched a little too wide across his teeth, his panicked eyes belying the huge grin; he really was a shy man. My mother would turn at some astronomer’s angle to show her good side, which changed from photo to photo depending on her mood, gazing at some invisible object with the vacant spectral intensity of a cat. She always pointed one foot out slightly in front of the other as if about to plunge into a curtsy, and smiled with a bit of her lip curled up.

But once I started treating my SLR like more than just a toy, my folks weren’t so pleased. Looking at the water-wavery coins, I remembered last year, when my father blew out the candles on his birthday and I took a close-up of his face in the moment of wishing, eyes squeezed shut, holding his breath. When I developed it, I was so excited—it was one of the first times there was a coincidence between what I’d hoped to capture and what actually came out: It was as if you could see the wish in his mouth, like it was too big, about to push out his teeth and burst forth, and he glowed like a little walnut Buddha in the blurred fallen halo of all the candles’ light that formed the photo’s bottom frame. But when my father saw it, he wasn’t so impressed.

—What is it you are doing here, Dimple? No cake? The whole point is to be taking the cake—do you know how long your mother spent on it?

—She bought it, Dad.

—But still—the time to go to the baker’s, park the car. And you are making me look like a constipated chipmunk.

—I wanted to get the wish in your mouth.

—The wish in my what? The only wish I have is that you take a nice photo for once!

Then he saw how his own words hung heavily in the air and he
felt bad and clipped his mouth tight and hugged me quickly as if I were going to slip away any second, too.

—I’m sorry, he said.—I’m sorry. I’m just afraid. I don’t understand you anymore, Dimple. You are my own daughter and I don’t understand you.

I knew he was fighting tears because his mouth turned down scowlwards, which it never did except when he was sleeping. My mother said that was where most all the stress of his day came out: in his sleep. He was a very gentle man.

—It’s okay, Daddy, I said.—Even I don’t understand me anymore.

—Chipmunks are sweet, my mother said, rushing to my defense from an unexpected angle.

Later I asked him what he’d really wished for. I had to know—the expression on his face had been so full of hope and so drained of it at the same time, like he’d already had his cake and was still trying to chew.

—Too much, he’d said quietly.—Too much.

When I got to Friendly’s, my father was already seated, looking squashed even though it was a booth for four and he had no bags or boxes with him. My heart sank a little. He didn’t like this Friendly’s too much because the dirty dishes were stacked and burgers flipped in plain view in the middle section (witnessing the behind-the-scenes of restaurants wasn’t exactly his idea of an appetizer). He brightened when he saw me.

—Come, bacchoodi, he said, indicating the seat facing him. He liked having me and my mother across from him so he could look at us.

—Mom’s not here? I said, mildly alarmed. Our father-daughter moments were rare, and I didn’t really know what to say to him sometimes when we were on our own. I don’t know when it happened—maybe around the Bobby era. And it made me sad, because I really did love my dad and whenever we had to write Hero papers I wrote about him and how no matter how hard he was working at the hospital he always had time to show me how to draw a face in proportion or solve an equation or hear all the details about my day. And he’d always tucked me in. But somehow whenever the two of us were out alone now we ended up working each other’s nerves.

—She’s taking a very long time, isn’t she? my father tittered.—And it is worrying, as she most certainly has the American Express with her.

We both knew my mother liked to gaze into the glass cases at jewelry stores, and even sometimes have the salespeople unlock them so she could try on the flashing bracelets, the blinding rings. But if she liked something she usually made a mental note of the design and had a version of it created in India for a fraction of the price. She really wasn’t dangerous with a credit card—it was just an easy thing to say, like,
Can you believe this heat?
to a stranger in an elevator. It made me sad that my dad and I talked as if we were in an elevator.

—Are you hungry? he said now, rubbing his right arm.—We can order for her. She’ll be here any minute, I’m sure.

That was at least something to do.

I’d drunk half of the coffee ice cream concoction we’d ordered for my mom (as well as my own) by the time she suddenly burst upon us, face flaming with excitement.

—Where were you? asked my dad a little petulantly.

—You’ll never believe whom I just saw! my mother cried, squeezing in next to me.

—Who?

—Radha Kapoor!

—Who’s Radha Kapoor? I asked.


Radha
Radha? said my father, a tiny fried clam dropping out the corner of his stunned mouth.

—Yes! I tried to convince her to join us, but she was parked illegally and had to go.

—That’s Radha! I’m happy to see she hasn’t changed in all this time. Ram, it’s been years since I’ve seen that woman.

—Who’s Radha Kapoor? I repeated.

—Radha was one of my dearest friends in college and med school in Bombay, said my mother.—I knew her even before your father, and she met her husband around the same time I met Daddy. It was on a double date—we were supposed to be chaperoning them! Radha and I did everything together. She was like…she was like my Gwyn.

—Really? I said, interested at the mention of Gwyn.

—What on earth is she doing here? my father asked.

—She’s just moved to the area and set up an ob-gyn practice in the Manhattan. And you’ll never believe where she’s living—that last house on Lake View!

—Aaray baapray! exclaimed my father.—It will be wonderful to see her! And Samish was with her?

—No, she said something about business in India. He must be tying up loose ends. But…

My mother looked at us slyly.

—She
is
here with her son.

—Son?

My dad’s interest perked. It was as discernible as a coffee machine clicking on.

—Son. Who happens to be just a bit older than Dimple.

—A bit older than Dimple, said my father, ever the apt English pupil.

—Who is studying at the NYU. Computer engineering and Sanskrit.

—And Sanskrit.

—Who is single, said my mother, sitting down satisfied and punching open her straw on the last syllable.

—Single! Dimple, did you hear that?

—I’m sitting right here, I said.

—We’ll have to have them over for chai! said my father.—What do you think, Dimple?

Uh oh—I didn’t like where this conversation was heading one bit. The matchmaking was definitely on. Ever since my folks got the news that Sangita was having her marriage arranged by Meera Maasi and Dilip Kaka back in India they’d been dropping hints galore (about how wonderful it was that she was keeping up with tradition, how nice it would be to have a suitable Indian boy in the family) and suddenly, it seemed, ringing all their friends with sons just to say hello. So far nothing had come of it. The sons were either married or out walking the dog during these calls and I’d always had school and fictitious extracurriculars as an excuse to occupy my time. But now it was summertime. Little did my folks know that tomorrow I would be doing my utmost to make Julian mine; I had even more motivation now.

—I’m only sixteen, I reminded them.

—A half-hour ago in the Style Child you were already seventeen,
hello,
my mother reminded me back.—Anyways, there’s no drinking age for tea. I think you can handle it. It can’t hurt to meet Radha.

—Just have Radha over then, I said.—And anyways, if she’s like your Gwyn how come you never talked about her before?

—Oh, I don’t know. We lost touch over the years. She got busy in India, and I got busy with, well, America.

She said America like it was an intensive glass-blowing class.

—And India began to seem very far away, she went on.—Or, I don’t know, maybe I pushed it before it could push me.

My mother laughed quietly here, but I didn’t think she saw what was funny either.

—But somehow we find ourselves together again. And to think she was in America for so much of this time!

—Gwyn and I will never get too busy for each other, I said. But they weren’t paying attention anymore.

—Radha Kapoor, my dad was saying.

—Radha Kapoor, my mom nodded. They stared, smiling and shaking their heads at each other and I wasn’t a part of it. I wished I had my camera, but I had a feeling even the greatest camera in the world couldn’t look where they were looking.

CHAPTER 4
sugar and spice

By the time I got out of the shower in the morning, Gwyn was over. Not only over, but she’d already emptied out the contents of my closet on both beds and was scratching her head, pacing around and looking from the duds to the Madonna posters that covered most of the Pepto-Bismol-colored paint and back.

—Gwynnie! I cried.—I thought you were in New York.

To tell the truth, I was relieved to see her. It reminded me that I was not in on tonight’s escapade all alone.

She threw up her arms in a ta-da and flashed her pearly whites.

—I’m here for inspiration. Dyl texted me that he was stuck in traffic so I thought I’d pop by and do a little EFC. Or Consoling, considering the state of your closet.

Gwyn’s version of Emergency Fashion Counseling usually amounted to her snagging my stuff for her own emergencies, but tonight I would say I had a legit emergency of my own. She was now back at the beds, putting the final touches on a complex mix-and-match maze. Most intriguing was a strip of black fabric that looked vaguely familiar paired bandeau-like with a long denim skirt. I cricked my head.

—That’s not a tube top, Gwyn, I said.—It’s a neck muffler.

BOOK: Born Confused
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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